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These guidelines here are not strict rules, but they should help you navigate the world of publishing.
The first thing to remember is to ALWAYS READ the terms of publication or the contract. If you don't understand something, ASK! Reputable publishers will explain everything. If a publisher tries to put you off ("Oh, that's just legal jargon; you don't have to worry about that!"), then proceed with care.
There is some room for negotiation, but remember that publishers are in business and won't agree to anything that is unprofitable for them. If you think a publisher is being unreasonable, check online to find out what is normal or common, and google the publisher to see what others' experiences are.
Never agree to anything you don't understand. It's like a foreign language: if you don't understand, don't say yes.
Are you agreeing to have your work published just once? You should not give away all your rights forever, but if you are publishing in a magazine or anthology, it is fair for the publisher to ask that you don't publish anywhere else for a certain period (perhaps a year) after they have published your piece.
Do you get to keep your copyright? You should.
Where does the publisher have rights to distribute?
What happens if your book is translated, including into Braille? Often, publishers will specify that nothing will be paid to you for a Braille translation if that translation is done by a non-profit organization. This is perfectly normal. The publisher won't be paid either, because such a translation is usually done by volunteers as a community service. You should get some royalties if your book is translated for a commercial publisher.
It is important to be sure you understand when your book will be considered out of print. The contract should define this. Once it is out of print, you can, for example, put it online if you don't think any money can be made but want to make it available. It can be difficult to determine what "out of print" means if your book is also published in an e-version.
How many author copies will you get? This number usually ranges from two to six.
Make sure that you follow the submission guidelines.
- Guidelines often include not only formatting but also, if relevant, referencing specifications.
- It almost certainly includes a promise that your manuscript is not being published at the same time anywhere else.
Sometimes, editors want something that hasn't been published before; make sure that you comply: you must be clear and honest with the publisher about this. Remember that putting something online usually counts as "publishing", so don't put online anything you are going to try to sell.
Submit the manuscript on time, at the very least, but early if possible. Make a good impression!
It is quite common for publishers to ask you to pay for an index or do it yourself, if you want one. This is also normal. (As an aside, you are the best person to index your book.)
Royalties can be a source of great confusion. Remember that a publisher pays for the final proofreading, layout, design, cover design, printing, distribution, and marketing of your book. They also want to make a profit, as does the shop that sells your book. So royalties will not be as much as you think.
- Royalties range between 4% (for academic titles) and 15%, usually coming in somewhere around 7-10%.
- If the publisher produces an e-version of your book, the royalties should be rather higher (often between 25-50%, but again, it can be different for academic books).
- Publishers only pay royalties based on what they receive on the sale of each book, so if a bookshop sells your book at a discount, the amount that you receive will be less than what you would get from copies sold at full price. You don't really have much control over this.
- Royalties are paid based on the number of books sold, not on the number printed. A big print run does not automatically mean big royalties.
- Reputable publishers pay royalties according to a schedule, sometimes only once a year. In a given payment period, if the royalties due to you are less than a certain amount, such as USD $100.00, some publishers will carry that amount over to the next payment period and pay you then. If publishers follow this practice, it should be stated in the contract.
- Look out for things that the publisher will deduct from your royalties, such as indexing.